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Those with less severe symptoms of celiac disease may be at a higher risk of death [Updated]

September 15, 2009 |  1:01 pm

Those who suffer from celiac disease have much to contend with. The immune-related disorder causes digestive symptoms when gluten is eaten, making flour-based foods such as breads and pasta problematic. Eating gluten can injure the surface of the small intestine, not allowing the body to absorb some nutrients. Previous studies have shown an increased risk of death among people with celiac disease.

Kp40i7nc But a new study in this week's Journal of the American Medical Assn.reveals there also might be a moderately increased mortality risk for those who have less significant levels of symptoms related to the disease, such as intestinal inflammation or latent celiac disease.

Researchers from Sweden and England looked at data from biopsies done between 1969 and 2008 that included biopsies on the small intestine. Data on all cases of celiac disease, inflammation and latent celiac disease were matched with controls.

The data revealed 3,049 deaths among patients with celiac disease, 2,967 deaths in patients who had inflammation, and 183 deaths in patients with latent celiac disease. In all three groups the risk of death was higher--those with inflammation had a 72% increased risk of death, those with celiac disease had a 39% increased risk, and those with latent celiac disease had a 35% increased risk of death. Researchers believe that the higher mortality rate for those with inflammation could be due to the fact that they were older at the beginning of the study.

Among causes of death were cardiovascular disease and malignancy.

The same issue of the journal features an editorial by Dr. Peter H.R. Green, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. In it, Green emphasizes the importance of doctors diagnosing celiac disease, and argues more attention should be paid to intestinal inflammation and gluten sensitivity.

Recently a new at-home test for celiac disease was introduced. MyCeliacID is a do-it-yourself saliva-based test that uses genetics to determine if someone has a gene that is linked to the disease, but does not diagnose the active disease. [Update 1:40 p.m.: An earlier version of this article said the test determines presence of the disease.]

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

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